Archive for the ‘News Roundup’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (April 8, 2018)

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

Just a heads up that the next few weeks might be light in terms of news and roundups, as I’m going on a small trip. Luckily, there were a few things to talk about this week, as otherwise, it would be a rather long break without a WNR. The things that we talk about are rather related too, as you’ll find out.

So without wasting any more time …

Copyright

The problem of leaked screeners has gotten bad enough that the MPAA has finally decided to seek external help to get the problem under control. The MPAA has partnered with the Content Delivery & Security Association to created the Trusted Partner Network (TPN), a group that will try to ensure standards are being met in terms of the secure storage and distribution of entertainment content, including screeners.

TPN will set out to raise awareness of proper security protocols, and TPN approved assessors can provide auditing to content owners and vendors who wants to ensure they aren’t the weak link in the distribution chain.

You can’t blame them for taking some action though, because screener leaks and even major hacks have become so common, they’re no longer even news worthy. That’s not to say that the problem is so big that the revenue lost, and the jobs associated with it, has become news worthy as a result. If anything, it appears that the movie business has never been better.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was the top movie domestically

Don’t think that’s the case? Then why not check with the MPAA, who’s most recent report paints a very rosy picture of the film business. The last 3 years have been record years, domestically, for the movie industry, and globally, 2017 was a record breaking year.

Box office receipts are up, especially in emerging markets like in Asia, and not only that, home entertainment profits are up as well. The latter might be surprising because the same report paints a dire picture for physical media, with revenue down some 41% since 2013. But as luck would have it (or not luck at all, but just common sense), the rise of digital has more than offset the losses with physical media. This has meant an overall increase in consumer spending, meaning that despite some of the money going to the likes of Apple, Google and Netflix, digital is actually more profitable than physical (or maybe more precisely, the ease of use of digital now means people are consuming more content than ever). Who would have thought that innovation and user friendliness are the keys to success? I certainly didn’t in 2009 or even earlier if I had bothered to search through WNRs from before then.

But the focus on piracy still hasn’t decreased, because in the eyes of the MPAA and its members, it’s still “money lost” despite there being very little evidence that stopping piracy entirely (not possible anyway) would lead to a surge in profits. For me, the transition to digital would not have gone so smoothly had there not been pirate applications that had already gotten people used to consuming digital media. Kind of like how without MP3 piracy, Apple would have found it a lot harder to launch the iPod and iTunes, because there just wouldn’t have been a market for the entire ecosystem. And without the price pressures put on the industry by piracy, Spotify would have never existed for the same reasons Netflix might have never been.

Digital music player

Digital, more precisely, digital subscriptions, are helping the music industry recover financially

And as we’re on the topic of music, it’s a bit of a coincidence, or not, that the RIAA also released their own report on the state of the music in industry, and it’s starting to look brighter too. Again, digital is playing a key role in the “revival” of the industry (following it’s “collapse” due to piracy if you believe the RIAA, or more likely, the transition from CDs to digital). And within the larger physical to digital transition, and as we are also seeing within the movie industry, there is also a transition from ownership to subscription. From iTunes to Apple Music, or iTunes again to Netflix.

And hysterical claims from the RIAA about the lousy royalties from streaming, it’s actually paid subscriptions that’s driving industry profits forward – both digital downloads and physical media sales were down, but total revenue grew by 16.5% thanks to a 56% rise in the number of paid subscription.

Things will never go back to the heydays of CDs, but so many things have changed since then (um, the Internet, for one), so is it really realistic to expect business to stay the same?

You can’t blame everything on piracy.

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And on that note, we come to the end of another WNR. There might still be one next week before I leave for my trip, unless I run out of time packing, which is very likely. See you … when I see you again!

Weekly News Roundup (April 1, 2018)

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

I’m not getting into the April Fools game this year. If you follow this roundup, or just read news in general, you’ll already know how absurd real news stories can get these days, so anything I can come up with for April Fools will be lame by comparison. So if I you read a new story about the MPAA sending a representative to become a board member of the XBMC Foundation, the foundation that operates the Kodi project, or if the RIAA has decided to submit Spotify to the USTR to add to their global piracy blacklist, or if Australian media boss Graham Burke says Google’s perceived lack of action on piracy means kids are being lured into bad Internet neighbourhoods full of prostitutes and drug dealers, then you probably have no idea whether they’re real or if they’re an April Fools news story.

That last one was actually real news, BTW.

Here’s the real news (I promise) …

Copyright

'Kodi' has been filtered by Google

‘Kodi’ has been filtered by Google

Google has decided the term Kodi might as well be a synonym for piracy, and has banned the word from its Autocomplete feature. So instead, if you type “kod” into Google, you’ll get the suggestions like “kodak black” or “kodiak bear”, and nothing related to the media software.

The fact that the Kodi software is just a media interface, not too dissimilar to Microsoft’s Windows Media Center software that came with Windows versions from XP to 8.1, makes the banning quite strange. Especially when you consider that other legal software terms with even stronger links to piracy, such as “uTorrent” and even “Popcorn Time”, are perfectly fine by Google standards.

I do expect Google to reverse their decision in an embarrassing back down at some stage, and they will do what they always do, blame the algorithm (and so to theoretically remove the human element from the equation as a means to project themselves from lawsuits … never mind that algorithms are written, tested and monitored by human beings, and I believe that’s where the ultimate responsibility lies – anyway, getting off topic).

Does this all have an effect on Kodi? According to Google Trends, search traffic for the term “Kodi” dropped by more than 21% in the last week, so …

Spotify Logo

People are pirating Spotify. I really didn’t know that this was a thing until this week.

Another media software in the spotlight recently is Spotify, mainly due to its impending IPO on the NYSE. As part of that process, Spotify has had to audit themselves and present any irregularities. One irregularity that Spotify has identified is that approximately two millions of its users are using hacked versions of the Spotify app, which allows free accounts to access premium features, such as no ads. What this means is that there are two million users that aren’t generating profit for Spotify, and unfortunately, these users has been counted as normal users and included in Spotify’s previously published key performance indicators.

I personally believe it isn’t the ads that people are trying to bypass by using the hacked version. The free version of Spotify’s most annoying limitation, at least when it comes to the mobile app, is the inability to select tracks to play, and only being able to play a playlist on shuffle. Worst yet, and this is one of those badly documented limitations, the shuffle playlist play will only work for a number of tracks before Spotify will just play you random (but sometimes related) tracks not in your playlist. This is especially true if your playlist consists of tracks from a couple of different albums – this is Spotify’s way to prevent free account holders to listen to a single album on a loop, even if it’s on random shuffle. If it was just the ads, I think most people would just live with it.

Anyway, Spotify has notified accounts suspected of using the hacked version and also barred the hacked versions from accessing Spotify’s servers. There are however many hacked versions, and not all are blocked, and so I suspect many users are still using “pirating Spotify”.

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And on that note, we come to the end of another WNR. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (March 25, 2018)

Sunday, March 25th, 2018

Sorry again for the lack of an update last week – in my defence, it was my birthday week and it was also a quiet week. It was also a quiet week this week though, there’s barely anything worth talking about, barely, but still something, so here we are.

Copyright

Serious Sam's Bogus Detour

Pirates and developers working together – weird but true!

It’s often said that piracy can help game sales, via the discovery and promotional effects of piracy. But to see game developers actively work together, side by side, with pirates to promote a game, is another thing. This other thing happened recently when the game developers behind the game ‘Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour’ decided to accept help from an unlikely place – from game cracker Voksi!

If that name sounds familiar it’s because just a few weeks ago, I mentioned Voksi right here, when he released a YouTube tutorial on how to crack Denuvo of all things. Voksi is also a big fan of the ‘Serious Sam’ series (and most game pirates are also game fans, it has to be said), and when he saw that ‘Bogus Detour’ was struggling, despite getting great reviews on Steam, he decided to reach out to the game’s developers.

Apart from not targeting the game of cracking, Voksi also suggested that the developers release an “official” pirated version of the game that includes a message at the bottom of the screen to ask gamers to buy the game if they like it. Voksi also put up his own money to provide a giveaway related to the release of the “pirated version”. What is perhaps most surprising was that the developers, ‘Crackershell’ (no pun intended), took Voksi’s suggestion and formed one of the rarest relationships in the game industry.

If there ever was proof that piracy can be a promotional tool, this is it. It’s also worth noting that this kind of story leads to people like me writing news articles, which can also help to promote the game further. At the very least, something like this won’t have done the developers any harm, since the game was struggling sales wise in any case. Let’s hope more fruitful partnership of this sort will exist in the future.

High Definition

Star Wars: The Last Jedi 4K Ultra HD Cover

The Last Jedi will be the first Star Wars film available in 4K

I know that ‘The Last Jedi’ was a divisive film among Star Wars fans, but I personally loved it because it at least tried to tell a different and unexpected story. What wasn’t divisive was the soundtrack, which has been critically acclaimed and was nominated for an Oscar (which, unfortunately, it did not win). Now, for those in the US at least, you can buy the digital “music only” version of the film. It’s what is commonly referred to as an “isolated soundtrack”, where you can hear the soundtrack matched to picture in all its glory. Isolated soundtracks used to be quite common once upon a time, but they’re quite rare now, so it’s good to see something like this, even if it is only via a digital purchase and not included with the Blu-ray edition.

It’a also worth noting that ‘The Last Jedi’ will be the first Star Wars film to be released in 4K format. It will be interesting to see just how well it does on 4K as a benchmark of how the format is doing, since Star Wars film generally sell fantastically on disc and it might even be the best selling disc for 2018, just like the last movie.

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I know it’s short, but it’s also sweet, no? Well, it’s all I could do this week, see you again soon!

Weekly News Roundup (March 11, 2018)

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. Sorry for the lack of an edition last week, again, nothing much was happening. So this is the first WNR of March, and long time readers will know it is my favourite month because it’s when my birthday happens. I know, self absorbed much? But still, March is a nice month generally regardless of where you are (spring in the Northern hemisphere, and a nice autumn here in the south), and how can you not love a month that sees a Star Wars film being released on Blu-ray. I know, nerd much?

A few things to go through, so let’s not waste too much time on the intro …

Copyright

Final Fantasy XV

Square Enix really messed up the release of Final Fantasy XV

If you want a checklist of things not to do when it’s time to release a game, just take a look at what Square Enix did do with the release of Final Fantasy XV on Windows. First of all, Square Enix’s decision to use Denuvo was always going to be a bad one, when it comes to building relationship with your customers and fans – they weren’t happy! But if you’re going to use Denuvo, there are a few things you need to ensure. First, don’t release pre-load files on Origin in unencrypted form that allowed cracking groups from all over the download the full game files, ready for distribution once the game is cracked. Second, and this is a big one, don’t release a demo that included a game launch executable that could somehow be used with the full game to bypass copy protection. That’s right, Square Enix managed to release a crack for their own game via the demo version, and all signs point to the full game (minus the DLC content) being playable.

Square Enix’s SNAFU does present an unique opportunity to benchmark the performance of Denuvo, and whether or not it affects gaming performance. Some benchmarks have already come in, but most of these test the demo version against the full version for the first few levels (which both the demo and full version include). Most of these say that there are no performance losses associated with Denuvo. While this does test a Denuvo-free version of the game against the Denuvo version, there’s is no information that suggest that the demo is at exactly the same optimization stage as the full release version – the full version may have included additional performance optimizations that the demo version does not. A better test would be the pirated version (with the demo exe, and the full game files) versus the full official version. Hopefully, a benchmark of this type will be made soon (and the benchmark hopefully will take into account the need to ensure there are no GPU bottlenecks fudging up the results – it’s stressing the CPU, preferably on a minimum requirement spec system, that will ultimately show up any performance differences, if there are any).

MXQ Player

The US government will help the MPAA take on Kodi box makers

It’s not going to be easy to segue into the other stories this week since there’s not much in common with any of them, so I’m not even going to try. And so the next story is one that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – the U.S. government is now actively helping the MPAA fight Kodi boxes.

Do a congressional testimony thing, or a discussion panel in this week’s case, let the MPAA and others provide a one sided argument about the dangers and perils of the latest piracy craze, and then the government, as expected, take “swift” action using taxpayer’s money to defend Hollywood corporations from, in most cases, an exaggerated threat. And sometimes, even the President get in on the act, something that Trump’s handlers was able to get him to do this week too.

We now have Netflix, Amazon, Hulu for streaming plus iTunes, Google and Amazon again for downloads, there’s also DVD, Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray, not to mention cinemas, early digital releases and cable. If after all this, people are still relying on piracy, then it either means piracy is still somehow better/easier to use than the myriad of legal options, or that people simply can’t afford to pay the prices that Hollywood demands (not if they want access to all the content they like). You can’t stop piracy – people will find a way – but you can minimize it if you give people a better service at a price they deem is affordable/good value. And even then, you’ll probably still have people who prefer piracy.

Innovate, not legislate (or litigate), out of this problem.

uTorrent Logo

uTorrent was once owned by Spotify

Speaking of innovation (hey, I guess there was a way to segue, after all), with Spotify about to get listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and being valued at $20 billion, you might be surprised to find that Spotify’s origins had many links to piracy. In fact, you might be even more surprised to find that Spotify once owned a piece of software called uTorrent – yes, the same uTorrent that people who don’t use Spotify use to “obtain” music.

But the link isn’t so strange when you consider that one of the early developers of Spotify, Ludvig “Ludde” Strigeus, just happened to have invented uTorrent. Spotify bought his software and his technology, and then only a few months later, sold the software to BitTorrent Inc, the current owners. Spotify not only gained technology that they integrated into their own software in the transaction, but they also made a bit of money in the sale to BitTorrent Inc, money that they put to good use to grow the company into the $20 billion behemoth it is now. And not only that, it has virtually wiped out music piracy as a thing of concern even to the likes of the music industry, who failed to innovate out of the problem, but instead, let someone else, Spotify, to benefit from the innovation.

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That’s all I have for you this week. Given that it’s my birthday next week, I might not find the time to do too much work (hehe). But if I do find the time, then see you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (February 25, 2018)

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the WNR, one that, unlike in recent times, is actually full of stuff to talk about. Yeah well, I don’t know what happened either. Maybe it was the post Valentine’s Day euphoria that got the news juices flowing, but I think it’s just lucky timing.

Alright, let’s not waste any time …

Copyright

Redbox Kiosk

Redbox scores a win in its lawsuit with Disney

I didn’t really expect this to happen, but Disney’s lawsuit against Redbox isn’t going to be as easy as they thought it would be, with a judge having denied Disney’s request for a preliminary injunction. Lawyers usually don’t ask for preliminary injunctions (or even file the lawsuit in the first place) if they didn’t have a reasonable expectation of success. But sometimes all it takes is a good argument, and a judge willing to consider it, for the tables to turn, and turn they have.

U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson ruled that Disney was engaged in “copyright misuse”, by attempting to bundle too many conditions to the redemption and use of the digital copy that comes with Disney combo packs. Specifically, Disney tried to “tie” the ownership of the digital copy to the ownership of the discs in the combo packs, and this meant that users had to give up their right to resell the discs if they wanted to redeem the digital copy, and that, the judge said, was beyond what Disney’s copyright allowed them to do.

It wasn’t a complete slam dunk for Redbox though, as they failed to get the judge to recognise that the “first sale doctrine” applied to the redeemable digital copy, as in the judge’s opinion, the digital copy doesn’t actually exist at the time of sale (it only exists after the buyer redeems the code). Without being able to rely on the “first sale doctrine”, which limits the ability for the rights-holder to control the product after the first sale has occurred (and is the basis that allows us to resale our legally purchased goods), Redbox’s assertions that they had a right to sell the digital codes might not be an easy argument to make.

Interestingly, the judge found issue with the wording of the “Codes are not for sale or transfer” condition on Disney’s combo packaging, which does not make it clear that opening the package is considered acceptance of the conditions. Expect changes to the packaging to happen sooner rather than later.

Speaking of changes, those that have used Google Image search in the last week would have noticed a rather big, and annoying, change. Google has removed the “View Image” and “Search by Image” links in its image search results, meaning that it’s now much harder to download the original, unedited versions of any image. And that’s the whole point really, because Google has come under pressure copyright wise (via a Getty Images lawsuit) to stop making it so easy to download images via its image search function.

As expected, users have not reacted positively to these changes, and who could blame them. Also as expected, website owners have welcomed these changes, many of whom have long accused Google of “stealing” their images by directly linking to them (allowing users to download them without the need to visit the publishing website). The same problem exists with snippets (you know, live sports scores, weather, and things of that nature), but at least with snippets, some websites are actively providing the content to Google. Not so with images, and many webmasters have even gone as far as install scripts on their site to prevent direct linking.

While one fire has been potentially put out, expect the conflict between publishers and Google to intensify with Google’s other features.

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Denuvo

Is Denuvo a performance killer?

Does Denuvo affect gaming performance? There’s evidence to suggest that it does, and there’s also evidence to suggest it doesn’t. But I think what is clear is that Devnuo has the *potential* to affect performance, and if the cat and mouse game between Denuvo and crackers continue and Denuvo start to use more and more complicated means to protect games, then yes, performance will eventually become a big issue. Anything that potentially makes hundreds if not thousands of calls per second will take something away from the gaming performance, even if these calls are super efficient.

Denuvo isn’t the only anti-tampering game in town though. Arxan is another company that’s promoting their anti-tampering tech, and it has already been used in some games. It has been used in games for Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform, which allows game publishers to use a single API set to publish games for a wide variety of Microsoft devices. UWP features not one but 5 layers of DRM to protect its games, and was previously though to be impenetrable. Try telling that to a hacker though! This week, a UWP game and its 5 layers of DRM (MSStore, UWP, EAppX, XBLive, and Arxan) were all cracked by group CODEX, allowing the game ‘Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection’ to be pirated. It’s hardly a game that pirates have been waiting for, but as a proof of concept that UWP can be cracked, it is just as effective as a AAA game.

High Definition

Disney’s upcoming streaming service won’t compete with Netflix (says Disney at least)

Not content with having control over all of the most profitable franchises (and making a zillion movies for each franchise), Disney is in the process of buying another major studio Fox. This, along with their plans to pull new content from Netflix starting in 2019, all bodes well for the studio’s upcoming streaming platform. It has already been discussed as a potential “Netflix killer”, but Disney says that’s not what it is at all.

Instead, Disney’s streaming offering will be a more streamlined affair, offering 500 movies compared to Netflix’s 4000+ at launch. The price for the service, according to Disney, will also be lower than Netflix’s.

So the new service may not be a Netflix killer, but it might injure it some, considering how many good movies Disney (and Fox) has at their disposal.

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I think that’s all we have this week, hope you found it all interesting. See you next week!